Directed by Lee Unkrich
Pixar’s Lee Unkrich, who co-directed many of the animation studio’s earlier films, takes the directing reins himself this time, and he does a stellar job using all of the advances in computer animation technology available since the previous movie to make a movie that feels modern and current but also retains the sense of magic and wonder the original movies produced.
After an elaborate opening sequence that would make Roland Emmerich proud involving one of Andy’s playtime fantasies, we’re given an update on what’s been happening since we last spent time with his toys 12 years ago. At this point, they’ve been shut away in the playchest, aching to be played with, but with Andy heading off to college, they’re now in danger of being thrown away. They decide their best bet is to sneak into the boxes being donated to a local daycare facility, but once there, they realize that being played with on a daily basis isn’t worth what they have to endure at the hands of toddlers. Running the joint is a cuddly purple bear known as Lotso Huggin’ Bear (voiced by Ned Beatty) who has found a way to work the system by keeping new toys in line.
At its core, “Toy Story 3” explores what happens to toys after we’ve grown out of them, something we don’t normally think about after a certain age, but emotions anyone of any age can immediately relate to. Although this allows for more than a few poignant and reflective moments, this is a comedy first and foremost, and Unkrich’s secret weapon is Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), who successfully acclimates himself into the Pixar fold by taking everything people loved about the characters and creating a consistently funny movie that feels very much like an amplified version of the Pixar experience. There are a few nods to gags from previous movies, but this is one of those rare threequels that works perfectly fine as a standalone since it’s so easy to figure out who everyone is, being that most of the characters resemble toys we remember fondly from our own childhood.
Up until “Toy Story 3,” the best Pixar movies had been realized by writer/directors, so it’s amazing to see how well one creator’s voice can be combined with another creator’s vision to such brilliantly clever results, especially when the movie turns into a prison break drama that pokes fun at classic films. While I’m certainly not one to throw around the term “genius” lightly, the level of humor in the movie is up there with some of Pixar’s best, sometimes going for subtlety and requiring a moment, and sometimes being quite overt. None of the ongoing gags are ever being overused to the point of wearing out their welcome. The romance between Barbie and Ken is a lot of fun, especially the note-perfect casting of Michael Keaton, who has some of the best lines and moments this time around. Spanish Buzz Lightyear is a nice third act twist to the gag in “Toy Story 2,” even if he quickly turns into Puss In Boots from “Shrek.” Each of the characters we love are given their own “hero moment,” but the new characters introduced are just as enjoyable, especially the ones Woody meets during his escape plan like the overly-dramatic thespian Mr. Pricklepants, you certainly will want to see more of them. Another direct path to the viewer’s heartstrings will be their owner, a little girl named Bonnie, who is just as adorable as Russell in “Up.” She’s another example of how Pixar has made even the humans feel even more human in their recent offerings.
Besides the top-notch writing and voice-acting, the animation is just perfect, everything having real weight and depth and texture to it, making it even easier to be pulled into this world which is much closer to our own than other recent Pixar offerings. The colors are so bright and vibrant they leap off the screen, setting this apart from other 3D animated movies, especially ones that hide lesser animation in lots of shadows. Minute details like the sheen on Rex’s plastic shows how Pixar’s techniques have advanced in the twelve years since we last saw him. If the animation were anything less than perfect it wouldn’t withstand the microscope of the 3D process, and “Toy Story 3” looks even better in the format than last year’s “Up,” because the 3D adds to the colors and the textures rather than detracting from them.
While portions of the film may be too intense for younger kids and they may not appreciate all of the film references and jokes older audiences will adore, the central premise about growing out of one’s toys will certainly relate to everyone. On top of that, the movie’s perfect pacing, maintaining a steady stream of jokes and exciting action, will more than do its job at keeping the young ones glued to the screen. Even so, the movie retains all the heart and emotion of recent Pixar films, and if the ending doesn’t make you tear up then you’re probably not human. (And stick around through the credits because a lot of those characters introduced earlier are revisited.)
The Bottom Line:
(Also, make sure to get there early enough to catch Teddy Newton’s short “Day and Night”–not to be confused with the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action movie opening next week–as it shows a competition between two amalgamous Schmoo-like 2D creatures whose bodies display different 3D animated settings, one at night and one during the day. It’s really charming and unique from previous Pixar shorts in the way it blends animation styles and fluidly transitions between the creatures as they interact.)